An Archaeologist/Educator Collaboration: 

Lessons learned during a year of archaeology in the Baltimore County Public Schools

By Patrice L. Jeppson

Paper presented at the Society for Historical and Underwater Archaeology Annual Conference, Quebec City, Canada, January 2000. In press (Historical Archaeology).


Illustrations for this paper can be viewed at



Let me offer a prelude relevant to both this paper and to the one that follows by George Brauer. George and I are presenting in tandem on a program of archaeology education but we do so as separate acts that draw from experiences conditioned by our different personal experiences and professional orientations - that of an educator, on George’s part, and an anthropological archaeologist on mine. We do not speak with one voice nor from one place but offer independent perspectives that we hope when taken together form a useful juxtaposition concerning archaeology as education.



(Begin slides)

Throughout the 1990’s, I’ve grown increasingly alarmed about ‘the place’ of historical resources in American society. (Picture #1)[1]. My concern is not with the power struggles involving history for as Tilley notes (1998:319), “By virtue of their location in contemporary society, archaeologists work and write in a field of power relations and power struggle”. Rather, I am worried about how historical resources are fairing so poorly as a result of society’s socio-economic divide. I am dismayed at how a culture war has taken a toll in numerous arenas of specific and tangential importance to historical archaeology: The research climate is chilled due to the slicing of the NEH budget. There has been a significant reduction and even partial elimination in congressional appropriations for many federal agency historical offices including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service. This has translated into the abolishment of numerous positions and sacrifices in resources management. Regardless of ever-increasing visitor numbers, there has been a crippling of the funding for, as well as the unprecedented censoring of, Smithsonian exhibits and, as a result of this, self-censoring by scholars in public interpretation elsewhere.

Also alarming to me has been the resentment and even hate-filled vitriol - all over the public airwaves - hurdled towards those in the history profession as seen in the recent battle over the National History Standards and towards federal and state agency preservation officials and their charge (cultural resources on public lands). This has been paralleled by an increasing sentiment towards, and incidence of, preservation legislative non-compliance and, on occasion, physical or verbal attacks on agency personnel. There has even been the odd outright desecration of heritage resources. At this point, I am still relatively amused by the Far Right’s condemnation of international site preservation activities (ICOMOS, World Heritage Sites) and their belief that public lands are future internment camp locations for the coming government take-over through imposed martial law. (For a sampling of culture wars-related literature consult, among others, Nash et. al., 1997; The National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History’s, Washington Updates, 1995-1999); and Position Papers of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., 1995-1998.)

Paralleling this tide, a movement in historical archaeology in the 1990’s has focused on educating the public about the importance of the past and the need for preservation of sites. As my apprehension has been stoked over the past decade (and some might say my conspiracy theory mind-set charged), I found myself wishing for an interpretive archaeology opportunity that could address public sentiment towards history and historical resources and that operated at a grass roots level. I found one such opportunity in the program run by George Brauer, Director of the Center for Archaeology/Baltimore County Public Schools (Slide #2)[2] – an archaeology educational facility in the 25th largest US public school district with 160 schools and 106,000 students in grades K-12. (Slide #3)[3] What follows here reports what I learned during a year spent in the Baltimore County Public Schools at their Center for Archaeology, and of what I think this operation has to offer the idea of public interpretation in historical archaeology. Some of what I will discuss involves personal revelations that may be quite obvious to others, or not, but it is my hope that the key elements I’ve found again and again to be central to the Center’s success can help others as they attempt in their archaeology interpretation efforts to “Give The Public Its Due”.[4]

The Center for Archaeology/Baltimore County Public Schools:

Some Facts and Figures

The Center for Archaeology, established in 1984, is an outdoors educational facility operated for and by the Baltimore County Public Schools (Brauer, this volume).  Its mission is to provide instructional programming for teachers and students. The Center maintains archaeology instruction in the district’s elementary, middle school, and high school courses. Terminology and basic concepts are first presented in the third grade and are built upon through substantive examples of archaeology research in middle school and later high school social studies activities.  In these efforts, archaeology is used as a hook to grab the interest of students as ‘a means’ to educate them.  In brief, the Center’s purview includes but is not limited to, the following elements:

Eighteen high schools offer a semester-long, elective archaeology course for approximately 800-900 students.  Course participants receive an excavation experience at a mid-19th century, iron producing, company town site (18BA175) under investigation by the Center.  (Figure 1)

Each winter, approximately 30 third grade classes (approximately 900 students) receive enrichment visits by CFA staff which involve students in co-operative and individual problem-solving activities, in applying learned knowledge to real-life situations, and in drawing knowledge from different context areas in extensive writing exercises. These visits, along with CFA produced exercises (2000, 1997a, 1996a), support two units of archaeology that are taught as part of the third grade’s social studies curriculum. These units are aligned towards the Maryland Schools Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), or standardized testing program. (MSPAP is briefly summarized in the Maryland State Department of Education, Fact Sheet 6, [1998]). 

All third grade classes have Curriculum-Matched Programming provided through an original, award-winning program televised on the school district's cable television station.    Ten additional third grade classes participate each year in excavations at a simulated site operated by the CFA/BCPS.  (Figure 2)

The Center produces elementary, middle, and high school social studies readings and exercises using data recovered by students at the CFA/BCPS run site. These materials include Course Curriculum Guides (CFA 1997, 1996), primary content materials (CFA 2000, 1999, 1999a, 1998c, 1996, 1995, 1991, 1990, 1990a), extension and supplemental activities (CFA 1998b, 1997b, 1996a) and assessment activities (CFA 1997b). Evaluated professional archaeology research forms the basis for other curricular exercises (CFA  2000a, 1999b, 1998, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c, 1997, 1996, 1990).

Center programming provides enrichment learning options for both Title 1 and Gifted and Talented students.  The Center offers a continuing education course to district teachers in the summer and provides Adult Education courses through the BCPS' Community Education Program.

Among other honors, Center developer and Director, George Brauer, received the Archaeological Society of Maryland’s, 1999 Patricia Seitz Memorial Teacher of The Year Certificate of Excellence for “Outstanding Role In Fostering An Understanding Of The Discipline Of Archaeology Among Students”.  In 1995, the Center received The National Council for the Social Studies' Programs of Excellence Award for outstanding social studies programming in the nation.

All exercises produced by the Center are written in a standardized lesson plan format helping ensure their adoption by teachers.  Simply put, this formatting entails breaking down archaeology research into its various components and linking these clearly and directly to the instructional skills a teacher uses throughout the day.  In a third grade exercise, for example, this could mean making obvious ‘where’ and ‘how’ an archaeology activity meets such instructional goals as 1) establishing an orderly pattern to student thought from concrete to abstract principles, 2) gathering data, 3) encouraging practice with spelling, 4) requiring adding and subtracting of numbers, 5) developing visual perception, 6) practice at making estimations, 7) summarizing and drawing conclusions.

Site-based activities meanwhile drive the Center’s research program.  For example, over a period of several years, high school archaeology students, Gifted and Talented Summer Program participants and teachers in the continuing education course excavated a tenant house site and then processed the recovered artifacts.  Once the field and lab research was completed, industrial arts students drew up blueprints for a reconstruction of the structure using the excavation results and historical photographs recovered by students at the archives.  Over the next four years, several classes of woodshop and masonry class students reconstructed the house and re-pointed the foundation stones.  Media communications students videotaped portions of the process for student documentary needs and aired their reports on the district’s educational TV channel.  This reconstructed tenant house now serves as a museum that displays artifacts excavated and restored by students alongside period antiques and replicas.  Today, this museum forms part of a cultural landscape tour that is given to all students who come to the Center for the excavation practicum.  Brauer (this volume) provides a more detailed discussion of the curriculum-driven research program.

Lessons learned at the Center for Archaeology/Baltimore County Public Schools

The following reflections on educating the public about and with archaeology are lessons learned while co-instructing field practicums, co-conducting third grade programming, and co-writing seventh and twelfth grade curriculum for social studies programming.  These revelations may be quite obvious to others, or not.  They form the elements central to the CFA’s success.

The ‘Exponential Growth’ Factor of Curriculum-Based Archaeology

One interesting lesson I learned during my year concerns what the archaeology profession gains from such instructional programming.  Having archaeology as part of the core curriculum means that the Center’s reach has an exponential, ripple like, effect that we would be hard pressed to equal in any of our usual outreach activities.  For example, approximately 12 third grade teachers attend a five-day field school each June bringing first-hand experience, and considerable enthusiasm for archaeology, to their classes of approximately 25 students each.  These teachers come from throughout the 103 elementary schools in the district, each of which has, on average, three third grade classes.  They also share their knowledge with the other third grade teachers in their individual schools further spreading the word about what archaeology is, how it is done and why it is important.  Currently, an army of teachers coached in instructional programming in archaeology ‘touch’ the minds of 13,000 young people yearly.

The Importance of Effective Transmission of Knowledge

Figuring out how this wide reaching, ripple effect comes about was a major undertaking of mine during the year.  What I discovered was that knowing how an educational system operates is necessary if one is to take advantage of it.  A successful ‘archaeology as education’ endeavor rests upon understanding the lines of communication in the system, understanding the system’s culture and nomenclature, and, of course, finding the right people to know to get things done.

George Brauer is a curriculum specialist for the district’s Office of Social Studies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction which, in turn, falls under the district’s Division of Educational Support Services (ESS).  As such, he and the CFA are part of that portion of the school system that helps to maintain the ‘Essential Curriculum’ - -  the non-negotiable program of study that the Districts 5000 teachers are expected to teach and its 106, 000 students are expected to learn.  The essential curriculum also ensures compliance with State educational goals which for Maryland include performance-based-learning (learning by doing/learning using real-life, hands-on activities), interdisciplinary study, critical thinking, and multicultural equity, all of which archaeology data and methods can and do contribute to.  Based as it is at the ‘heart’ of the district’s curriculum process, the CFA program ensures that archaeology finds its way first into a usable form and then into the hands of teachers.  Archaeology as education works so successfully in the Baltimore County Public Schools because it is embedded into the core curriculum at the point and place where the curriculum is produced:  In other words, it ‘rides the backbone of the system’.

Expanding Beyond Recognized Archaeological Outreach Goals and Responsibilities

Another lesson I learned during the year involves how the archaeological record and its associated value are acquired by students (Pokotylo and Guppy 1999:414-5) and what this means for the currently perceived goals and responsibilities of archaeology practice.  The BCPS’ archaeology as education program illustrates the point that outreach goals and responsibilities could be expanded.  Students taking the archaeology elective course analyze pipe stem data from the town site under investigation by the Center (the site where they and their peers conduct research on mid-19th century company town residents).  These students also decipher copies of records from the town’s company store and then produce economic generalizations from gathered data. Students likewise perform a comparative analysis of faunal evidence recovered from the worker’s house sites and from the manager’s house site.

If these activities were only viewed as the wide dissemination of research results this would be a laudable achievement.  But this student activity of working up primary data engages them intimately in the study of the past.  There isn’t just one individual writing up the artifact evidence, there are 800+ members of the community, at a minimum, doing so EVERY YEAR.  This involvement is far from the usual scenario where archaeological findings make their way into arcane academic reports or CRM Grey literature only to be seen by a few.

The Need for Collaboration

Another important lesson I learned during the course of the year centers on the notion of collaboration in public interpretation and rests essentially in the need for archaeologists to better capitalize on the strengths of others.  Why collaboration?  There is a lot of good archaeology being done out there but good outreach materials don’t automatically follow as a by-product.  Collaboration between educators and archaeologists is needed to stem a growing tide of materials that are less useful for implementation in schools due to excessive jargon or to content which is only marginally suited to curricular needs.  These points are generally known to archaeologists specifically concerned with public interpretation (among others, Murphy 1998;  Jameson  1997; Smith et al. 1992; Stone and MacKenzie  1990) and there are several fine examples of materials produced in collaboration with educators (e.g., at the Center for American Archaeology, in the BLM’s Project Archaeology program, in the NPS/National Park Foundation’s Parks as Classrooms program, and under the Forest Service’s Passport in Time program).  But now that public interpretation is becoming more generally recognized as an essential component of both CRM and academic archaeology, this need for collaboration is all the more critical.  Unfortunately, our continued use of insider evaluation of education materials (by archaeologists and not educators) hinders progress otherwise made in this area (Goldstein 1998).  In addition, with the burden teachers carry today as a result of the focus on assessment of standards, archaeology, when implemented as ‘extra-curricular activity’- - as opposed to part of the ‘core curriculum’ - - will just get set aside.

 The problem is that we archaeologists are often a bit arrogant in thinking that we can provide what educators need when we know so little about the ‘transfer of information as practice’ (except, perhaps in college level training).  The truth is, the transfer of knowledge within this formal education sector is not our forte (some even argue it is not our job).  There is an entire field of research with understandings, methods, methodology, and philosophies dedicated to this practice that we, archaeologists just overlook when attempting to share our world within the formal education sphere.  What is interesting is that this is not something that happens elsewhere in our field.  Don’t we send human remains to the osteologist, animal bone evidence to a faunal specialist, our decomposing leather to the conservator?  Why don’t we collaborate with educators rather than try to be both archaeologist and educator compromising one effort while failing at the other?  As George Brauer pointed out to me, we excavate with great precision and then are not as precise in our efforts to publicly interpret our finds (personal communication, 1998).  And yet the implications of our naivete are serious.  The goals of increasing public awareness about preservation issues and of inculcating appreciation for the past are impeded.  At best, precious resources and time are depleted while we ‘reinvent the wheel’.

Archaeology ‘As Education’

Whatever the reason for our laxness in collaboration, the omission feeds into another lesson I learned that concerns the responsibility we feel to make our insights accessible to the public.  Because we don’t recognize and correct often enough for our shortcomings in producing accessible knowledge, we unwittingly regularly conduct a false form of this responsibility.  An example of this is seen with the notion of surrendering authority.  When a young person holds up a corroded (‘lumpy’ in their parlance), 2 x ½ in. piece of metal and asks, “What is this?”  How does the archaeologist respond?  Instinctively, we want to say, “This square shape indicates the object is a cut nail . . . . dating to . . . . Its presence in the site might suggest that a structure was possibly present in this location .”   It goes against the grain of our hard earned, and expensively acquired, knowledge to respond as an educator with an answer that is not an answer at all but rather a pathway toward enlightenment that begins with the statement, “What do YOU think it is?”, followed by perhaps asking, “Is it bone?, Wood? Glass? . . . . What might this object tell us about the people who once lived here?”.

Try holding your tongue next time you are asked a question by a member of the public.  It will be hard to do because you will be bursting at the seams with all your expertise.  But, when you do the opposite of what it feels like you should be doing, then you are educating and not being just an archaeologist.

Archaeology Education as a Site for the Transmission of Culture

Much public interpretation involves debate over the intellectual issues of the interpretations in archaeology and is not specifically concerned with the issues of effectively conveying information itself (Johnson 1998:12). Because of this focus, some practitioners choose to stay apart from formal public education regarding the arena as merely a vehicle for ideological indoctrination - - where education dogma is just another authoritative structure (Mouer in McDavid 1999).  However, after a year in the Baltimore County Public schools, I offer the following counter-argument to this position.  Yes, formal education can appear unavoidably authoritative and hierarchical if understood only as ideology.  Yes, there are issues of power enacted in the classroom in regards to the publishers of textbooks, of the State in enforcing compulsory schooling, and of the teacher over the student.  But, when viewed anthropologically, as one of society’s main means of intergenerational transmission of culture, formal education can not and should not be ignored.

 Indeed, there are codes and rules structuring society that are only taught in this societal institution.  Rather than avoiding formal education, public archaeology needs to recognize the position education plays in society and act to change the system or subvert it with new forms of methods/data/and understandings specifically using archaeology as content and its method as message. This engaged form of orientation too, is occasionally countered by sincerely committed scholars who suggest that even to make the rules explicit is to act against liberal principles.  However, after my year in the schools I have learned that this position can be shortsighted because making explicit society’s codes, rules, and information is actually empowerment when it helps advance the democratic communication process. In fact, in sidestepping formal education in the attempt to moderate authority through (the very important needs of) multivocality and multiculturalness, there has often been a related move toward indirect (or direct obscuration of) communication about the codes and rules that structure societal practice: There has sometimes been a failure in this approach to recognize the importance of schools as sites of cultural production and reproduction and thus, well-meaning individuals may have inadvertently hindered their publics. Importantly, this type of omission is suggested by some to be not inadvertent but instead revealing of “unconscious true motives” for maintaining the status quo (Delpit 1995:29). 

What I learned from this lesson on the (place of) transmission of culture is that “Good liberal intentions are not enough” (Delpit 1995:45). I saw during my year that to correct for inequalities students must be taught the social codes needed to participate fully in the mainstream of American life while being helped to learn about the arbitrariness of those codes and about the power relationships they represent -- and I saw how archaeology is one means to this end.  By using archaeology, students can be hooked into instruction and thus be better able to learn important education skills necessary to open doors.  Archaeology can’t fix everything, but every bit of practice that ‘archaeology as education’ provides ‘helps plant seeds’.

I come away from a year in the school trenches less accommodating of those who suggest formal education is mere indoctrination. As others  (West 1989; Nadar 1997) have stated, it is too easy to stay on the political sidelines due to faddish cynicism, “to retreat from responsibility and commitment by escaping into literary fictions and criticism” (Rorty 1998:103).  I see that action now as a false choice where, “cultural politics supplants real politics and rhetoric remains revolutionary rather than reformist and pragmatic action” (Rorty 1998:103).  I would rather that people use their archaeology to “relate ideas to action by means of creating, constituting, or consolidating constituencies for moral aims and political purposes” (West  1998:6).

Conclusion:  Archaeology Practice as Civic Action

Perhaps, most importantly, what I learned during my year at the Center for Archaeology/Baltimore County Public Schools is that archaeology in the formal education sphere presents an opportunity for integrating intellectual practice with social life as ‘citizen archaeologist’.  I learned that this kind of public interpretation isn’t about aiming for a democratic archaeology but rather about working towards a democratic society. Such an approach allows us to participate archaeologically in society as active citizens - - meaning that we connect to the daily lives of people, that we give them information they need and can use so as to improve communities through archaeology and thus improve archaeology through communities. So, this is a call for a civic archaeology where our publics are viewed as constituents rather then clients, students, or audiences to be entertained.  This is a call for a form of practice where responsibility to the public is based not on archaeology’s needs but on archaeology’s needs to meet the needs of the public (Jeppson 1997:66, 1995, 1991).  This form of motivation is entirely opposite of the way most public interpretation is conducted.  But by relating archaeology to the world in this directed fashion it can operate as one small piece of contemporary culture that filters through and has an effect upon multiple areas of life.


George Brauer, developer and Director of the Center for Archaeology/Baltimore County Public Schools, devised the educational strategies discussed here.  I am grateful to him for his patience while instructing me in the practical matters of educating others.  Materials pertinent to the Center’s program belong to the BCPS’ Division of Educational Support Services, Department of Social Studies/Office of Curriculum and Instruction.  I thank Jed Levin for the helpful comments he provided on an earlier draft of this paper prepared for the Society for Historical and Underwater Archaeology annual conference in Quebec City, Canada.


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Patrice L. Jeppson
Center for Archaeology/Baltimore County Public Schools
Oregon Ridge Nature Center
13555 Beaver Dam Road
Cockeysville, Maryland  21030-1506


Figure 1. High school students review class-based archaeology teachings with CFA staff prior to each excavation session.

Figure 2.  Third-grade students excavate a simulated burned house site comprised of modern architectural items and fabricated use areas.

[1] Editorial cartoon by Rogers captioned, “Congressional Revisionist History Museum”, published on January 31, 1995 in the Pittsburg Post Gazette.

[2] Map depicting location of Baltimore County in the State of Maryland.

[3] Map of Baltimore County Public Elementary, Middle School and High School sites.

[4] Alludes to the broader, Society for Underwater and Historical Archaeology Conference, session theme (chaired by John Jameson, 1999), entitled “Giving The Public Its Due: New Horizons In The Public Interpretation Of Archaeology” to which this paper was assigned.